By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Famine could strike another million people across South Sudan early next year if the civil war escalates, a report said on Monday.
Aid agencies fear an imminent upsurge in fighting once the rainy season ends this month, which could wipe out recent efforts to avert famine and push areas of the world's youngest country into starvation by March next year.
Some 10,000 people have died and 1.7 million, one seventh of the population, have been displaced since conflict broke out between President Salva Kiir's government forces and rebels allied to his former deputy Riek Machar.
Tariq Riebl, head of Oxfam in South Sudan, said although humanitarian aid was vital, a political resolution was urgent.
"If the international community really wants to avert a famine then it has to make bold diplomatic efforts to bring both sides to end fighting," Riebl said in a statement as the report was released.
Despite significant international aid and a recent lull in fighting due to the wet season, nearly 2.2 million people currently faced starvation, the report showed.
Malnutrition was also a serious concern. In addition to limiting food production, the conflict has also disrupted markets and pushed up food prices, the report said.
Fishermen have been barred from rivers, cattle herders have had their livestock stolen, or been forced to sell them off cheaply.
The report also found several households were supporting up to 25 people, and women told aid agencies that many young men had joined armed groups to take the pressure off their families.
Aimee Ansari, head of CARE in South Sudan, said the country had avoided famine this year due to the strength, resilience and generosity of its people, but warned "they are now at the end of their tether".
"Eating seeds meant for planting keeps the gnawing hunger away for the moment, but it is mortgaging the future to meet the desperate needs of the present," Ansari said in a statement.
"The people of South Sudan did what they could to survive this year – but that means they will be vulnerable next year."
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Ros Russell)